Twelve minutes into a 14-minute profile of ESPN reporter Adam Schefter airing Tuesday on HBO, the feature takes a radical turn. On Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, Schefter discusses marrying Sharri Maio, whose first husband, Joe, died in the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
“It’s not easy,” Schefter says. “You are always trying to be a better husband and a better father…. You live in that shadow.” Then the NFL newsbreaker raises his right hand, palm up, and leans his shoulders forward. “Do you ever get that,” he asks, and the camera follows his gaze.
“Sure, you wonder,” HBO correspondent Jon Frankel says, a shine of emotion in his eyes. Frankel also married a 9/11 widow. “You know there was somebody else who meant a lot.” Suddenly the piece is more than a look behind the curtain at how Schefter works. It’s about being rather than just reporting. Slowly two men accept their role in the wider story.
In September, Schefter published a memoir. Or at least that’s what the cover calls it. But the title, The Man I Never Met, refers not to Schefter but Joe Maio, who was on the 105th floor of the North Tower when the first plane struck on 9/11. Working with co-author and Sports Illustrated writer Michael Rosenberg, Schefter kept asking for the story to be more about Joe and less about himself. “It’s a hard thing to fully grasp unless you walk in these shoes,” Schefter said. “The bottom line is it helps keep Joe’s memory alive. It pays tribute to him and my wife. That’s ultimately the most important thing.”
Schefter has since passed on possible TV deals, wary of how producers might take creative license with his story, or direct the focus to the wrong part. But, a fan of Real Sports, he said yes to Frankel. Schefter’s story made a good fit for the show, which needs football stories in the run-up to the Super Bowl that don’t depend on which teams make the big game.
The video opens with info on Schefter’s day job—how breaking a story is “like a drug” to him, how he commutes to New York and Bristol, Conn., the toll of it all. “I don’t necessarily love over time what my job has done to me,” Schefter told SI. “It has made me more jittery, more anxious, more on guard, more impatient…. I’m sure some parents like to take their kids skiing. I couldn’t do that really. It’s too hard to go do some of these things.”
Then it pivots to the topic Frankel was hesitant to discuss. “I certainly had my reservations about doing this story because I didn’t want it to be about me,” Frankel said. “It’s not every interview I’m going to turn around and be the subject of the question.”
Talking Sunday, the two were still discussing what the story is really about. Frankel told Schefter (who didn’t see the piece before it aired, per HBO policy) that Frankel’s wife’s first husband, Greg Richards, wasn’t mentioned or shown in the piece. “I don’t know whether we’re doing him a disservice,” Frankel said. “Again, the story’s not about me and it’s not really about Greg.”
Is it too late to add?, Schefter asked in response. “I know they’re doing a story on me but it’s really about Joe and Jon and Greg. It’s really about four men, not one.” In the piece, Schefter talks about his family by saying, “I stepped into their lives, they didn’t step into mine.” This is their story, he’s saying. Frankel doesn’t let him get away with that. But you helped each other, he counters. Back and forth the spotlight swings.
“I learned I have a compadre in this,” Frankel said of doing the story. He’d texted with Schefter previously but had never met him. “I guess what you learn is, you’re not alone.”